I didn’t grow up in church. Unless you count Christmas and Easter. I don’t. I was 15 when I started “attending” church, as opposed to “visiting” church. Something happened. I fell in love.
With Jesus, you’re guessing. And you’re right. I feel head over heels, passionately, deeply in love with Jesus. But I also fell in love with the Church.
You see, when I started attending church my life was a mess. My parents had just divorced. My life was turned upside down. I was lost, and broken. And then I found this place where I was loved, and celebrated, and taught, and mentored, and accepted. It was… I can’t even find the word. It was LIFE. It was HOME.
To me loving Jesus and being a part of the Church went hand in hand. They were two sides of the same record. I was blessed to be a part of the Body. And I was honored to be of use to the Body.
I remember getting up at 6:00 on Sunday mornings to drive through the poorest neighborhoods filling up every car we could find with kids whose moms & dads were still sleeping off the activities of the night before. I remember standing under bridges eating lunch with the homeless who lived there, visiting hospitals to pray and hug and wait together with faces familiar to me.
Then there were hours spent around alters praying with friends, confessing sin and struggles to one another, words of encouragement shared, the joining of hands and hearts, the breaking of bread.
I. Loved. Church.
Church was a joy. But what was once a joy has become an obligation.
Jason Grey wrote in his new song “For the First Time Again”:
From all that I have seen
But I don’t want to be
Today, that is my reality. I’m jaded. I’m bitter. And I feel obligated.
Obligated to attend church. Expected to be at church. Compelled to serve in church. I feel as though, because I call myself a Christian, I am duty-bound to spend my Sunday mornings and evenings gathered with other Christians. And to be honest, I can’t find the purpose in it all.
I realize how cynical I sound. Believe me, I hate feeling like this. But this is my reality.
The questions are driving me crazy. Has the church lost its way? Or have I? Have I become too critical of the church? Are things really good, but I can’t see it because I am blinded by my bitterness? Is the problem really between me and the church or me and Jesus? Am I the problem? Are my expectations too high?
I just have this nagging thought that it isn’t supposed to be like this. That there’s more.
This morning I read an excerpt from Mark Batterson’s soon to be released book Primal. He writes: “The Holy Spirit reminded me of the raw spiritual intensity I once had. He revealed how calloused my heart had become. And I realized that I had somehow lost my soul while serving God. And it wrecked me. I realize that in many ways I had become a paid professional Christian.”
I have somehow lost my soul while serving God.
I have become a paid professional Christian.
What do you do with that? I have lost my soul, my joy, my wonder. It has been taken from me. By politics in the church, abuse of spiritual authority, gossip, backbiting, neglect. It has been swallowed up by cliques, social clubs, and status. By perverted teaching and false gospels. By scandals. By lies. By loneliness.
I still believe in the church. I still believe in the office of the pastor. In the call of God. But I hurt. And I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being hurt again. Afraid of trusting again.
And, ultimately, I think that is what this is about. This exercise in expressing these thoughts. It’s about forgiving. About letting go of the past. About learning to trust again. It’s about choosing to believe that while the church is a real, actual mess, it is still the tool of choice in God’s hand for reaching the world. It’s about choosing to believe that regardless of how stained and wrinkled the church has become, it is still His Bride. And I still believe He loves His Bride.
The Jason Gray song I quoted earlier… the next line of the song is: “I’m believing, won’t You help my unbelief”.
I am believing. I choose to believe there is hope. Hope for me. Hope for the Church. Hope for joy to return. But, God… won’t You please help my unbelief. Because my unbelief is big. Big enough that I feel as though I am drowning in it.
What was once a joy has become an obligation.
It's time for joy again.